What Do You Do?

Your career or job shouldn’t be your identity. Characterizing ourselves as such assigns too much value to an external and temporary source. If I identify with being a school teacher, I am confined by the rules that govern it. I am someone who teaches children in a school setting. A firefighter fights fire, a chef cooks, a leader motivates, an accountant reconciles accounts. Most jobs are quite literal in what they do and our self-worth can be strongly tied to it. When we leave, we feel like we’re losing a bit of ourselves too.

True identity lies not in the what but the why. The emotional stimulus elicited from performing said job is the underlying persona of who we want to be. You find fulfillment in educating the next generation and because of that, your job is a school teacher. You find satisfaction in creating delightful food and because of that, your job is a chef. My passion is to inspire others to Show Up and because of that, my job is a leader.

Aristotle told us “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” So the next time someone asks “What do you do?” Tell them your why, not the what. The more we say it, the more we remind ourselves, the more we live it out.

We Need More ‘Me’ Days

Physical injuries take time to heal. When we get hurt, there is well documented protocol of what to do and what not to do. There is an expectation of the recovery timeline and with proper support and rehabilitation, it can be improved. A broken arm takes three months, a twisted ankle three weeks. These are concrete ailments that people can understand and accept.

How about a fracture of the mind? Where is the step-by-step to emotional healing? Our brains, a complex organ, is unique to us as is our fingerprints. There is no standard timeline, no set of rules dictating right to wrong, no model for comparison. Regardless, we should have as much understanding for these emotional setbacks that we do physical yet our social acceptability for the former is abysmal.

Showing Up sometimes is staying away in order to come back stronger the next day.

Outdoor Observations

That’s a crab. His name is Bernard. We met him on a recent trip to the beach for some relaxation and downtime. He captured our attention as he was quietly digging a hole in the sand beside us. We’d watch as he disappeared below, then tip-toe to the surface, checking to make sure no one was watching, and then fling a clawful of sand to the side. What held my attention to Bernard was not so much that it was humorous – it certainly was but the novelty of it faded long before my gaze did – but the mere simplicity of observation.

Stretched out on a beach, I was allowed to observe, to not have my attention pulled involuntarily. Free to meander mindlessly and envision endlessly. For me, that type of disconnect isn’t restricted to only shorelines. Being in nature, wherever, has always put me in a deeper connection with not only the external environment, but also my greenhouse of emotions.

Nature Heals

Turns out, I’m not alone in that a little slice of nature benefits the mind. Research suggests that children who grew up with more green space within their local area, have a decreased chance of developing psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and OCD later in life even after adjusting for family history and socioeconomic factors. “Green space” allows greater opportunities for physical activities, social interactions, and quiet getaways. It makes sense that exercise, human connection, removal of technology, and avoiding the constant bustle of a city leads to improved mental health and awareness.

I could have been part of this study. My affection with the outdoors undoubtedly stems from my childhood. I lived outside. From the time it was acceptable to knock on my friends door in the morning to the time the lamp posts came on, I was biking, playing sports, on a trampoline, in the woods, or lounging with friends. Now older, green space is my personal window to self-awareness.

Go Green

Much like the beach, it is an opportunity to CHOOSE my focus. Whether it is reflection on the past or preparing for the future, the outdoors offers physical and mental breathing room. The ability to stretch the legs and the mind concurrently is freeing. Watching Bernard digging a hole is equally carefree and transfixing.

This introvert prefers going out(side). In a year where outside is publicly safer it is also psychologically safer. We all have temporary stress or anxiety and sun, fresh air, and greenery are natural and free medicines. If your walls are seemingly getting closer, get rid of them. If your mind is noisy, offset it with trees whistling, wildlife whispering. If your world is overrun with digital colors, limit the spectrum to natural green.

To Infinity and…Burnout.

Burnout. An appropriate compound word for when it all falls apart. At work, we’re so busy, so stressed that we can’t keep up. “Drinking from the fire hose” , “Jumping on a freight train”, “Keeping our head above water” are all phrases we’ve heard or even said ourselves. These are all short-term spurts of feeling overwhelming. Burnout however, is over a continuous erosion of our willingness. It’s when we’re trying to hold on, but we’re so exhausted, so done that our fingers slip and it all disintegrates. Burnout at work can impact our productivity, relationships, sleep, and mental health.

Rockets Explode!

It reminds me of the scene in Toy Story where Buzz and Woody are strapped to the rocket gripping onto RC while careening down the street trying to reunite with the other toys in the moving truck. They have so much propulsion pushing them upwards, away from their goal, that Woody’s feeble hands lack the strength to hold on and they’re forced to give way to the rocket’s direction and are shot upwards into the clouds with only moments before the rocket explodes. At the last second, Buzz extends his “high-pressure-space-wings” breaking off from the rocket and both he and Woody “fall with style” into the movie’s most iconic scene.

If only we too could go to infinity and beyond at work. When burnout happens, we don’t have a red quick release button on our chest to hit. We don’t break away at the last second. We’re depleted of all energy to engage thus we go limp, letting the rocket dictate where we’re headed…ending in burnt out cinders. Luckily, burnout is curable. So how do we prevent burnout? How do we be like Buzz Lightyear, the world’s greatest toy, and soar into Pixar brilliance?

Loss of Control

Being overwhelmed by workload demands is one factor leading to burnout. The simplest antidote here is to reduce them. While that might be the simplest, it isn’t always available. The next best thing then is to gain more control over those same demands.

Lacking control is what separates burnout from the typical daily stress everyone feels. Think about this: are you more likely to quit because of the volume of tasks you have to do or how those tasks have to be done? Of the fifteen bullets on your to-do, the one that has to submitted Thursday, approved by two supervisors, formatted just right, takes forever to process, and at the last minute has to be done again because someone submitted their portion late and you’re the only one that knows how to do it is the one the makes us lose our grip.

Much of the previous example is due to red tape, redundancies, and blockades. All of this prevents progress and if progress isn’t being made, teams can become disengaged. Disengaged teams make more mistakes and burn out more easily because they lack the control, or autonomy to refine and streamline. Teams with greater autonomy are entrusted to set their own deadlines and create boundaries for others and have increased motivation to complete excellent work given it is a direct reflection of their skills. All of this results in productivity which translates into efficiencies and efficiencies can support the reduction of the overall demands of a job. A win-win for preventing burn out.

Control the Rocket – Control the Work

Like Toy Story, we too can break away from our rockets before burnout. The propulsion can either push us forward, so long as we have the strength to hold on, or it can cause us to deviate and blow up. Ask yourself, will you let the rocket control you? Or will you control the rocket?

Apologize Less, Apologize Better

We’re over-apologizers. “I’m sorry” is over-used, a subconscious reaction to any slight we make towards others. The repetitiveness of its use dilutes its authenticity and the proof of its inundation is the robotic response when we do. “It’s ok.” If that were true, was the apology necessary? Apologies are to be rare and genuine, reserved only for when someone has the courage to apologize holistically, and those are the ones that should be gratuitously accepted.

What then separates a rapid-fire apology from one we want to listen to?

Don’t follow up an apology with an excuse. Add-ons like but, I just, or I didn’t mean it isn’t owning up to the apology. Regardless of what you intended, it was received differently. Apologize without defense. Making excuses leads the receiver to believer they’re in the wrong, that they should not have been off-put from what was said initially.

They’re not to be self-serving. If you’re apologizing for your own conscious or guilt, it’s the wrong reason. People don’t hear words, people hear intent. If the only reason you are saying it is if you think you have to, don’t. Take some time for reflection and distance for perspective. Come back when you understand their response.

Do apologize face-to-face, if possible. The delivery method in which content is sent is more influential than the content itself. Making a genuine apology is already Showing Up emotionally, might as well Show Up physically too.

As someone listening to any apology, thank them for it. It shows that you recognize they care enough to make amends. If you’re truly “OK”, thank them regardless and say it was no big deal. However, if your feelings were indeed diminished, let them know. They were willing to start a candid conversation so lean into their vulnerability with your own by explaining your why.

In the end, stop apologizing for the fast and loose, the forgettable, and the unimportant. Do apologize when you fall flat. Relationships are not built on a few comments, but the actions we take over time. One mishap will not break the bank so long as there remains a balance of generosity and kindness. To quote Maya Angelou – “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”